Wave 5 of Exemplar has come and gone and closed. (For non-judges reading this: the Exemplar Program is a peer recognition system for the judge program, which allows Level 2 and Level 3 judges to recognize exemplary actions in their own communities and around the world.)
This time around, although there were plenty of social threads reminding people to submit their nominations, I felt that the discussion about Exemplar itself was relatively subdued. Of course, it’s challenging to tie this observation to one specific cause. But I like to think that one factor is the tremendous effort Bryan Prillaman, our Exemplar Lead, has put into answering people’s questions and acknowledging their criticism. It’s also likely a reflection of the sheer inertia that Exemplar has generated. We’re on wave five now, which is a remarkable track record. Finally, selection bias could easily be at play here — I make no claims that my Facebook feed is a perfectly representational cross-section of the program or anything like that. But it is the best data I have right now, so I’m going to roll with it.
One comment I did notice a couple times was something along the lines of “I worked so few events this wave, so it was hard to come up with nominations.” This mindset is understandable, but it troubles me greatly. Thanks to the various regional Facebook groups, Slack channels, JudgeApps forums, and even blogs, I feel that it ought to be easier than ever to observe exemplary behavior outside of events — to say nothing of judges in your own city or local community. Looking at my own nominations from this wave, five of them were for judges within my own region. All but one of those nominations were related to very public projects that occurred within the past few months.
Perhaps the disconnect arises because our social communication channels aren’t actually that effective. Burnout is real, and social media burnout no less so. Being constantly “plugged in” can easily backfire and overwhelm us with information. A “Like” isn’t always a good indicator of engagement, but could just mean “Me Too!” Some groups have a lower signal-to-noise ratio than we bargained for, maybe even without us realizing it. These are concepts that anyone who takes a role in managing an online community (myself included) would do well to remember.
Or perhaps the issue isn’t that our social communication is poor, but that it’s simply difficult to relate to actions that we haven’t seen directly. Human nature suggests that we are generally unmoved by cold, faceless statistics; it’s individual stories that elicit empathy and drive us to action. Absent a framework with which to judge stories about major projects, it’s challenging to determine whether or why these initiatives could be exemplary. (Indeed, I’m guilty of this on some level: With just one exception, all of my nominations were for judges whom I’ve met in person — although several went to judges whom I haven’t seen in months, much less at any point during Wave 5 itself.)
On reflection, I think that both ideas have some merit, and could well be contributing factors to this phenomenon.
But I know the real reason that “I couldn’t come up with nominations because I didn’t work many events” bothers me, and it isn’t either of those. It’s because that statement implies that events are the primary or even exclusive way in which we observe exemplary actions. This is something that I profoundly reject. It’s true that without events, there would be no need for judges. But without our community, we wouldn’t be judges.
If the statement were something like “I wasn’t very active this wave, so I couldn’t come up with many nominations,” I wouldn’t have any objection. This is because “active” encompasses a variety of behaviors, both at events and outside of them. It’s practically definitional that a less active judge would interact with fewer judges and, on average, observe fewer exemplary behaviors than a more active judge. But I expect and hope that a judge who is active in their community and on social media, regardless of the number of events they’ve attended, would see a variety of exemplary actions from their fellow judges.
Do you agree? Why or why not? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Ultimately, Exemplar is a complicated puzzle, and in all honesty I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of this one small aspect of nominating judges. Besides the social media and empathy thoughts I’ve articled above, the correspondences between events, activity, and nominations are interwoven with a variety of other issues and challenges — such as the definition of “exemplary,” and whether it should even be our goal to fill all our nominations. While I don’t have the space to touch on these other issues right now, please let me know if you’d like me to do so in the future!
Until next time, may your actions always be exemplary.